Effect of Plastics on Brain Development

Journal of Neuroscience 16 July 2018, 0607-18; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0607-18.2018


The growth and organization of the developing brain is known to be influenced by hormones, but little is known about whether disruption of hormones affects cortical regions, like the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). This region is particularly important given its involvement in executive functions and implication in the pathology of many neuropsychiatric disorders. Here, we examine the long-term effects of perinatal exposure to endocrine-disrupting compounds, the phthalates, on the mPFC and associated behavior. This investigation is pertinent as humans are ubiquitously exposed to phthalates through a variety of consumer products and phthalates can readily cross the placenta and be delivered to offspring via lactation. Pregnant dams orally consumed an environmentally relevant mixture of phthalates at 0, 200, or 1000 μg/kg/day through pregnancy and for 10 days while lactating. As adults, offspring were tested in an attentional set-shifting task, which assesses cognitive flexibility. Brains were also examined in adulthood for stereological quantification of the number of neurons, glia, and synapses within the mPFC. We found that, independent of sex, perinatal phthalate exposure at either dose resulted in a reduction in neuron number, synapse number, and size of the mPFC and a deficit in cognitive flexibility. Interestingly, the number of synapses was correlated with cognitive flexibility, such that rats with fewer synapses were less cognitively flexible than those with more synapses. These results demonstrate that perinatal phthalate exposure can have long-term effects on the cortex and behavior of both male and female rats. Read more…